McGovern: Up school lunch subsidy

  • Superintendent Liz Zielinski thanks Rep. Jim McGovern for his advocacy for school lunches Thursday at Fisher Hill Elementary School in Orange. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern speaks Thursday to Mahar Regional and School Union 73 faculty and food workers at Fisher Hill Elementary School. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, speaks to Ralph C. Mahar Regional and School Union 73 faculty and food workers. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Food Services Director Jacki Dillenback speaks after McGovern. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Jim McGovern poses alongside Ralph C. Mahar Regional and School Union 73 faculty and food workers. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Jim McGovern speaks to Ralph C. Mahar Regional and School Union 73 faculty and food workers. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Published: 2/21/2022 2:23:17 PM
Modified: 2/21/2022 2:22:57 PM

ORANGE — U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern met school district staff and faculty at Fisher Hill Elementary School last Thursday morning to promote his new school lunch bill that calls for a 49-cents-per-meal national increase in school lunch reimbursement.

McGovern talked about the “Level Up Nutrition for Children in Every School Act” in the school’s cafeteria, a natural environment for an explainer on the bill, which was introduced during a pro-forma congressional session Tuesday. Shortly before students flooded in for their 10:45 a.m. lunch period, the congressman spoke to school employees as he summarized what the act would do for schools struggling to fund their lunch programs.

“This is an issue of national importance,” McGovern said. “I will be working to pass this bill and get it to President Biden’s desk. I want to urge my colleagues in Congress to join me in supporting the LUNCHES act.”

Currently, the reimbursement rate for school lunches sits at 10.5 cents per lunch. McGovern acknowledged the “important first step” made by U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide relief with a 25-cent reimbursement increase for the 2021-2022 school year, but pointed out that it it was only a one-year solution. He further contextualized the LUNCHES Act by citing a USDA statistic that the consumer price index for all foods rose by 3.9% in 2021.

McGovern’s talk was followed by comments from Superintendent Liz Zielinski and Food Services Director Jacki Dillenback. Dillenback said that schools’ capabilities to provide students with adequate meals have been further hindered by ongoing manufacturing issues.

“We can survive this as long as we go back to scratch cooking … but we can’t afford to do this without some additional funding,” Dillenback said.

McGovern framed his bill as “a companion to our Healthy Breakfasts Help Kids Learn Act”, which grants additional federal support to participating schools as funding for healthy school breakfasts. He stressed the importance of providing children with adequate meals as not just a matter of morality, but practicality.

“My two sisters are public school teachers in Worcester,” McGovern said. “I hear from them all the time that when it comes to helping kids learn, healthy food is just as important as a textbook. We have millions of kids in this country who can’t concentrate because they’re showing up to class hungry.”

Zielinski echoed this sentiment, adding that the district has been “trying to do the best that (they) can” to provide.

“School food and nutrition is essential to the development of our children in school every day,” she said.

In addition to the ethical and economic benefits of increasing reimbursement capabilities, McGovern said the increase should allow schools to better vary their offerings.

“The extra money, I hope, will also allow there to be more creativity,” he said.

McGovern stayed to chat with Fisher Hill food workers after discussing the bill, voicing appreciation for their efforts.

“Thank you for what you do here,” he said. “I’ve come to really appreciate the work you do in our school cafeterias.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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